3 Self-study programs for learning a new language

Learning a new language can be an enriching experience. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time or patience to sit through foreign language classes. I remember having little success with my one semester of French in college. My professor was such a terror that I was afraid to sign up for a second semester.

What really worked for me was self-studying. I’ve successfully taught myself Latin American Spanish, and now, I’ve gotten over my fear of French. Studying these languages on my own has allowed me to learn at my own pace and choose the materials that are best suited to my learning style.

In my experience, it’s good to have a self-study program as the backbone of your learning. I’ve tried both Pimsleur‘s Comprehensive Lessons and Rosetta Stone with great success.

Pimsleur is an audio CD program with reading lessons. What I love about it is that you start learning the things you’re most likely to need when carrying a conversation with a native speaker. You can stop midway Level 1 and have enough understanding of basic vocabulary and syntax to construct your own sentences.You can learn more about the Pimsleur method from the official website.

Rosetta Stone, on the other hand, is a computer-based program. You have to buy the software itself, plus the language pack you’re going to use. The training program is based on how children acquire a new language, so it’s easy enough to understand. Unlike Pimsleur’s, you won’t be able to carry a basic conversation with Rosetta Stone until you’ve gone through a considerable number of lessons. Also, some of the visuals tend to be confusing if you’re not paying close attention.

The major disadvantage of both programs is that they’re very expensive. I was lucky to borrow them from friends and the library, but if I had to invest my money on one of them, I’d choose Pimsleur’s, hands down.

But if you really have no money to invest, there’s a free alternative. LiveMocha is an online language learning tool with a social networking slant. You sign up for a free account and you can start with the lessons immediately. It’s similar to Rosetta Stone in format, but the lessons move at a faster pace. Since there’s a networking aspect, you can easily make friends with native speakers and ask them to correct and rate your speaking and writing exercises.

Have you tried self-studying a language? What materials did you use?

Image by tvol from Flickr

Posted by | Comments (15)  | June 4, 2009
Category: Languages and Culture, Vagabonding Life

15 Responses to “3 Self-study programs for learning a new language”

  1. Anil Says:

    Good list, I’d also add trymango.com (it’s free). I’ve learned a fair amount of Swedish using Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone. If you stick to them long enough you can really get a decent conversational level with most languages.

  2. Chris Says:

    Thanks, Celine! This is timely for me. I’m going to attend a once a month French book club this summer to practice the language. I haven’t had much practice with French since college (over 15 years ago). I’m also starting a free biweekly Spanish class at my church this summer. These resources will be a great help, as I commit my summer to learning and practicing languages.

  3. Nabeel Says:

    I found http://livemocha.com quite practical to learn any language

  4. Pimsleur languages Says:

    Great article! I think you’ll find that Pimsleur courses on audiobook chips are much more affordable than the CDs.

  5. Powered by Tofu Says:

    I’ve sampled Rosetta Stone, but I don’t want to spend the money on it! 🙂 So I went through the whole LiveMocha Spanish course, which is a great free option, but it ends after Level 2, so now I’m slowly reading The Alchemist (of El Alquimista) in Spanish. Next up, French!

  6. Benny the Irish polyglot Says:

    I borrowed my sister’s expensive Berlitz French course a very long time ago and am so glad I never paid for it. I suppose they work for some people, but that one didn’t work for me. What has always worked for me is total immersion; no course needed. You can buy yourself a grammar book, use a Lonely Planet phrasebook to learn vocabulary and then just go to the country (I presume a lot of people reading this blog would be flexible enough to be able to travel like that). With that very simply formula I’ve become fluent in a lot of languages and now I fund my travels as a freelance translator. If you can’t travel, then for the same price as those CD courses you could actually pay for private lessons for a few months and speak to a human being… Otherwise “tandems” of language exchange are excellent; you can go to a nearby university and offer free English lessons to foreign students if they help you with their language for example. No money exchange required. There are a million ways to learn a new language that don’t involve emptying your wallet. You can also check out meetup.com; there are meetings for language learners of specific languages very often in a lot of cities. Chris’s comment above about the book club an excellent idea.
    I’m currently blogging about my attempt to see if it’s possible for me to learn Czech in 3 months applying the same techniques I’ve used to learn my other languages. If you want to follow my story I’ll be giving plenty of tips that can be applied to learning most languages.

  7. malia Says:

    i used frenchpod101.com’s podcast series for help with french – i love them cause the podcasts themselves are free on itunes, and i just download to my computer, then transfer to my ipod for random lessons, or make cds out of them for the car. i’m also using their sister site – chineseclas101.com’s podcasts right now and i like their “survival phrases” episodes. they teach the basics, broken down by syllable, tone, meaning, spoken slowly and then at normal speed. they also throw in bits about culture and things as well. you can pay for additional lessons, pdfs of the classes, etc on the website, but i like the free version. today i was listening to the lesson where you learn to ask “can you say it again?” and “more slowly, please” because both are really practical if you’re trying to learn a language while speaking with native speakers…

  8. US Traveller Says:

    My teacher likes to randomly begin talking to us in French to see how many words we can pick up. Then we go over vocabulary and it’s interactive. Like, she’ll tell us to partner up and have a flowing conversation based on what we learned that day.
    It’s a fun class. Madame really likes us to interact and what not. Also, she tells us stories that led up to her becoming a teacher.

  9. Susan Fox Says:

    I found a Mongolian language course at Transparent Language. There’s a free “Express” version, but I paid $50 for the “Deluxe” version and am very satisfied. They offer an amazing list of languages.

  10. Sarah Says:

    I’m currently living in Istanbul, so I definitely have an “immersion classroom”. But when I’ve tried looking for online resources for Türkçe, to supplement real world education, I’m coming up short. Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, and the other “giants”, if you will, have good courses, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of good solid material elsewhere. I have, however, found http://www.turkishclass.com. What it lacks in visuals, it makes up for in practicality. There doesn’t seem to be many people learning Turkish, but if anyone here is, I thought I’d pass the link along!

  11. Filo Aman Says:

    Pimsleur work for me. I try the Spanish course. The lessons ar quite big (30 min) so i have to edit them in smaller parts and the listen again and again each part untll learn the words and phrases. The full course is 90 lessons, i’m now on lesson 70. It took too much time for me to reach this lesson (almost 2,5 years) but i’m only listen the lessons in my car, an average 10min per day. I’m not sure that someone can learn even the basics in just 30 days unless spend more than 2 hours per day studying.
    Notice that the Pimsleur Spanish course is more for Latin America and not for continental Spanish. Also be prepare to learn from Pimsleur course the formal form of language (suit perfect for business but not for everyday communication).

    My second experiance from pimsleur was when i try to learn Albanian from a basic 10 lessons course.It was a disaster. My girlfriend (native albanian speaker)told me that the language i try to learn from this Pimsleur course has nothing to do with the Albanian language. Not even the “formal” form of Albanian. You learn some words of course but almost every phrase was wrong (according to her – native speaker).
    She told me that they just took the Albanian words and put them in an order trying to translate the English phrases but the new phrases has nothing to do with the Albanian language.
    For example the try to teach how to say “I’m also fine, thank you”, they use the right words but in a very strange order totaly different than the original language (even the most “formal” form).
    Every time my girlfriend listen this lessons laugh. She can understand the meaning but always notice “We don’t say that this way in my language, the right way is …..

  12. Tom Desloge Says:

    There is a new product on the market called LangLearner. It currently offers language lessons in 10 different languages, as well as apps on the IPhone, Samsung, Windows Mobile, and Android.

    It is unique in that you pay a monthly subscription(prices as low as $14.99/m) so you can sign up for as much, or as little as you want. Once you do sign up, you get access to all of the lessons, in all languages. They don’t charge you separately for each language.

  13. Suzanna Juliar Says:

    Vocabulary is among the secrets to language. When people talk about fluency, they often include several reference to the minimum number of terms that one need to learn.

  14. Jenniffer Comtois Says:

    Sign language is an imprescindible matter to be discussed and obligatory in school, to integrate our kids to the deaf/mute world.

  15. Brian Says:

    I recommend trying http://worldwordexchange.com . This seems a very simple but effective method to me